By David Morgan, Associate Editor
When the green flag drops on Sunday’s 105th running of the Indianapolis 500, Team Penske will have its work cut out to put on a proper showing at the track owned by their team’s namesake, but that hasn’t hampered their confidence that they can get the job done on race day.
The four Team Penske entries struggled in qualifying, with rookie Scott McLaughlin leading the four-car stable with a 17th place start. Josef Newgarden will roll off 21st, followed by 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud in 26th, and Will Power starting on inside of the last row in 31st.
Despite the struggles in qualifying, the team maintains that when it counts during the race, they’ll be in the mix.
“Definitely disappointed the qualifying speed was not there. Still trying to figure out why that is,” Pagenaud said. “We turned the car over to the race package and she’s a beauty, so I feel just as confident as I was in 2019. I’m not starting on the pole, so I’m going to have to do it a different way. Hopefully we can come back. We’re so extremely happy with the chassis whether it was in qualifying or race pace. We just have more pace incorporated in race mode, so we’ve just got to find a way forward.”
The Frenchman added that the race practice he has had in his Menards sponsored Chevrolet reminds him of the car he piloted to the win at Indianapolis two years ago, even with the different aerodynamic package and the poor starting position he will have this time around.
“The car feels just as good as it did in ’19,” he said. “Now it’s a different aero package, so the drafting is very different. If I found myself in the same position on the last lap, I probably won’t be able to hold the lead, for example, because the suction is very strong for second place and third place gets quite affected, so it’s very difficult for third place to get a run on second. So, there’s a lot of thinking about how you attack the last 50 laps. First of all, for us, it’s a completely different story now. You have to crack the top-10 in the first 100 laps and find our way forward from then.
“Obviously, as you progress through the field, you get against stronger cars, so it’s going to become more and more difficult, but I have the best pit crew in pit lane. We’ve had the fastest stops since Barber, so that gives me a lot of hope. There’s no strategy, we’re just going to have to go.”
If the results of Friday’s Carb Day practice are any indication, Pagenaud’s notion that the team would be better in race trim seems to be panning out as all four drivers finished the final practice before Sunday’s race in the top-seven. Pagenaud was second, followed by Newgarden in third, Power in sixth, and McLaughlin in seventh.
With the boost from Friday’s practice, Pagenaud has not only the confidence of knowing that his car is capable of competing if he can put himself in the right position on Sunday, but he also carries added motivation into the race after the birth of his son Marley earlier in the Month of May.
“When I held my son for the first time, and I’m sure all the Dads here will understand, it felt like inner peace, and I’ve never felt like that my whole life,” he explained. “A few days later, I felt a boost of motivation to make my son proud of me. I want my son to grow and see and think that his Dad was a badass race car driver, so I’m going to give it even more of a challenge to myself to be the best I can be.”